U.S. Plan Widens Role In Training Pakistani Forces

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
March 2, 2008
Pg. 1
By Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON — The United States military is developing a plan to send about 100 American trainers to work with a Pakistani paramilitary force that is the vanguard in the fight against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas, American military officials said.
Pakistan has ruled out allowing American combat troops to fight Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas. But Pakistani leaders have privately indicated that they would welcome additional American trainers to help teach new skills to Pakistani soldiers whose army was tailored not for counterinsurgency but to fight a conventional land war against India.
Even though the training program would unfold over several months, it is being disclosed at a time of heightened operations in the unruly tribal areas along the Afghan border. At least eight people suspected of being Islamic militants were killed Thursday in a triple missile attack on a house used for training in the tribal areas.
For several years, small teams of American Special Operations forces have trained their Pakistani counterparts in counterinsurgency tactics. But the 40-page classified plan now under review at the United States Central Command to help train the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of about 85,000 members recruited from ethnic groups on the border, would significantly increase the size and scope of the American training role in the country.
United States trainers initially would be restricted to training compounds, but with Pakistani consent could eventually accompany Pakistani troops on missions “to the point of contact” with militants, as American trainers now do with Iraqi troops in Iraq, a senior American military official said. Britain is also considering a similar training mission in Pakistan, officials said. A spokesman at the British Embassy here declined to comment.
“The U.S. is bringing in a small number of trainers to assist Pakistan in their efforts to improve training of the Frontier Corps,” Elizabeth O. Colton, a spokeswoman for the United States Embassy in Islamabad, said in an e-mail message. “The U.S. trainers will be primarily focused on assisting the Pakistan cadre who will do the actual training of the Frontier Corps troops.”
Ms. Colton declined to specify how many American trainers would participate or where their bases would be. But Defense Department officials said that the number of American trainers could grow to about 100. Along with intensified missile strikes in Pakistan against suspected militants, the increased training program is another sign of the Bush administration’s growing concern and frustration with Pakistan’s failure to do more about Al Qaeda’s movements in the tribal areas.
The proposed expanded training program is modest compared with the training efforts under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is said to offer scant likelihood of blossoming into a much larger American combat presence. American officials are also acutely aware of Pakistani sensitivities to any United States military presence in the country, even trainers, and spoke largely on the basis of anonymity because of the diplomatic concerns and because the plan had not been formally approved.
Until now, American officials have worked closely with President Pervez Musharraf on counterterrorism policies, including training programs. The landslide victory by Pakistan’s opposition parties in last month’s parliamentary elections adds a degree of complication and confusion to any long-term military planning of this sort because it is unclear to what extent new leaders, like Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the victorious Pakistan Peoples Party and the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, will embrace those policies.
American officials are also taking a number of other steps to help increase Pakistan’s long-term ability to battle a newly resurgent Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the tribal areas.
At the request of Pakistan’s new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Central Command two weeks ago sent a four-member intelligence team, led by a lieutenant colonel, to work closely with Pakistani intelligence officers in Islamabad. The Americans are helping with techniques on sharing satellite imagery and addressing Pakistani requests to buy equipment used to intercept the militants’ communications, a senior American officer said.
The United States is also helping to establish border coordination centers in Afghanistan just across the Pakistan border, where Afghan, Pakistani and American officials can share intelligence about Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in and around the tribal areas.
The Pentagon has spent about $25 million so far to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armor, vehicles, radios and surveillance equipment, and plans to spend $75 million more in the next year. Over all, a senior Bush administration official said, the United States could spend more than $400 million in the next several years to enhance the Frontier Corps, including building a training base near Peshawar.
The training proposal now under review at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., which oversees military operations in the Middle East and much of South Asia, is subject to the approval of the commander, Adm. William J. Fallon, and top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Admiral Fallon said in an interview at his headquarters last week that additional trainers would be part of “a comprehensive approach” to address Pakistan’s security needs. “They want to do as much of this as they can themselves,” Admiral Fallon said.
Pakistani officials said they were aware of the Pentagon’s general offer for more trainers, but were not familiar with the details of the Central Command plan.
That document, titled “Plan for Training the Frontier Corps,” envisions a combination of Special Forces and regular Army troops working with the Frontier Corps in basic marksmanship, infantry skills and counterinsurgency techniques, Defense Department officials said.
Until recently, the Frontier Corps had not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with. But American and Pakistani officials say the Frontier Corps is drawn from Pashtun tribesmen, who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, and in the long term is the most suitable force to combat an insurgency there.
American and Pakistani officials acknowledge that it will take several years to build the Frontier Corps into an effective counterinsurgency. American officials say they have seen some Frontier Corps members wearing sandals on patrol and wielding barely functional Kalashnikov rifles with little ammunition.
The need for the training is evident. In January, hundreds of Islamic militants attacked a paramilitary fort in the restive South Waziristan tribal region in northwest Pakistan, killing 22 soldiers and taking several others hostage. A Pentagon official said the fort was overrun in part because the commander had failed to range his artillery properly before the attack.
“Pakistani military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have had limited effect on Al Qaeda,” Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. “Pakistan recognizes the threat and realizes the need to develop more effective counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities to complement their conventional forces.”
Robert L. Grenier, a former director of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, told a panel of the Council on Foreign Relations last week that any high-profile American military presence in the tribal areas or the neighboring North-West Frontier Province would be “the kiss of death.”
But Pakistan, he said, would welcome small numbers of trainers who kept a low profile, and were not involved in combat operations. “To an increasing degree as they see that it doesn’t cause the sky to fall, they will be willing to accept low-level support from the Americans, particularly in the form of training,” said Mr. Grenier, a former C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad.
Mr. Grenier added that the role American trainers played would rest largely with General Kayani, the new army chief. “He’s a very conservative, very cautious fellow,” Mr. Grenier said. “He will want to make his own decisions as to what is sustainable and what is not in the way of U.S. support.”